Yeah, this is some pretty bad stuff. The people who do like this album – they really do exist, apparently – could probably get more out of other religiously-toned-albums-by-not-really-religious-artists (and yes, I question Bob Dylan’s whole “born again” phase because of how suddenly it came and how suddenly it left) like U2, who could build towards a unifying, uplifting sweep instead of just presenting it all at once as on every song here, which begs the question of why bother listening to the rest of the song. That was a run-on sentence, but frankly, I’ve given this album way too much attention than it deserves (the sorry part about reviewing albums is that you have to listen to them, often more than once, in order to be able to talk about them, and if they’re bad…).
There is some good stuff happening that prevents this from being D or F territory. Whoever they hire as a discount Nicky Hopkins is smart enough to know that the piano was a driving force in gospel-tinged Rolling Stones songs, and he makes things go in both “Saved” and “In the Garden”; “Covenant Woman” is probably the best song on the album because there’s a vaguely discernible melody in Bob Dylan’s voice and because the singing is affectionate (probably because it’s about a woman and not about God, and what does that tell you?) (still though, the song is too long by a half); “What Can I Do for You” (capital “Y” in “You,” not because it’s following capitalization standards of titles, but because it’s being addressed to the Lord, so it’s following capitalization standards for higher deities) has the best use of the gospel choir of any of these songs – when they sing the title’s words, it’s pretty darn pretty and if you close your eyes and imagine that it’s not about God but rather about a romantic interest, you could have some use for the song. Also, the use of the harmonica in that song’s bridge and outro (bad move using it twice) is the most inspired instrumental passage on the album. Finally, “Solid Rock” is its title and would’ve been enjoyable if those backing vocals weren’t singing every line in the same lack of melody that Dylan sings them with.
But everything else? Yeesh. And in case you were wondering how the lyrics are, they’re even worse than they were on Slow Train Coming, the first of Bob Dylan’s religious trilogy. Whereas that one offered you a choice between accepting Bob Dylan as your Christ and Savior or damnation, these ones are more generic like they were picked out of a hymn book, as if he realized that the original message was going to alienate some listeners. He “hmmm”’s and “mmmm”’s his way throughout “A Satisfied Mind” and leaves our minds with anything but satisfaction. The gospel choir doesn’t seem to recognize the irony of repeating “On and on and on” wherever there’s a dull space on “Pressing On” and while “Are You Ready” establishes a hand-in-hand groove, which is more than I can say for its preceding song (the only song which I’m unaware that anything happened, despite me listening to it just a moment ago), Bob Dylan et al just ask (/yell) “ARE YOU READY” over and over above guitar that you’ve heard before if you’ve heard any rock album for its near-5-minute runtime and then the album ends before delivering the promised goods.
If you’re an atheist (which I’m not, in case you think that’s the reason for my lack of enjoyment – nope, it’s the music), and if you’ve ever been dragged to mass, ie. for a sibling’s graduation or for your mother’s long-lost friend who invited everyone over to watch her newborn child be drowned in holy water and given a certificate, you’ll know what Saved sounds like. The free crackers they hand out could have used some salt, the pews could have used some cushions and the hour could have used some fast-forwarding.